Tuesday, March 10

Up To A Point, M'Lord

Frank Rich, "Some Things Don't Change in Grover's Corners". March 7

Stanley Fish, "Neoliberalism Is a Pejorative Aimed At Me By People Who Are Insufficiently Pro-Israel". March 8

IT'S good to see Frank Rich returning to theatre criticism; we'd like to see him make it permanent, and the Times replace him with Glenn Greenwald, though we suspect they'd make a pitch to Stanley Fish.

And I'm glad, I guess, that Thornton Wilder is back on Broadway, if for no other reason than it means there's one less theatre contemplating commissioning a musical about the lives of The Monkees. I'm just more than a little wary about Depression chic making the rounds of people who have no intention, and little fear at present, of becoming one of them, and who will likely get no closer to the Dust Bowl this summer a strong breeze on a private beach.

I don't mean to be flippant, or dismissive; I just wanna know why the profession of journalism is so flippant and dismissive of its own role.
The simplest explanation for why America’s reality got so distorted is the economic imbalance that Barack Obama now wants to remedy with policies that his critics deride as “socialist” (“fascist” can’t be far behind): the obscene widening of income inequality between the very rich and everyone else since the 1970s.

And which just happens to coincide with the rise of Happy Talk News, faux-balance and fake reports, with the end of legitimate commentary on the "liberal" teevee networks, and the insertion of not-quite-crypto commentary into actual news reports, with the elimination of the Fairness Doctrine, with the lapdog treatment of Ronald Reagan and the wishful thinking and willful blindness that protected his "legacy" like a dainty parasol. It's a period that includes the stalking of Bill Clinton, led by the New York Times, the only President who reversed those trends. It's the same period which has seen the degrading of the political process into a species of celebrity gossip, the delimiting of the public debate to "Democratic" and "Republican" positions, frequently pre-shaped and pre-chewed for easy, unthinking digestion, and the unspeakable abdication of all journalistic principles in exchange for a flak jacket and a ride through Iraq on an M1 Abrams. And, no surprise, the cowardly Who Me? retreat that followed that disaster, much like the fast walk-and-whistle George W. Bush got from a couple of Times Op-Ed columnists who'd help sink his opponent in 2000.

And it corresponds precisely to that period when huge media operations were permitted to become behemoth media-company conglomerates thanks to, let's say favorable, decisions by the aforementioned Mr. Reagan, and the creation of the Heroic Entrepreneur Bravely Creating Wealth Despite Government Regulation mythos, which led us directly to CNBC.

Ah, not to mention the Times' own pledge to become more relevant to, and sensitive about, all the Right-wing Yahoo religious nuts which blanket all the arable land in this country wherever there're no subways. What is it now, two years old? How's it goin'?

But what the average man tries to skirt, the superior man obfuscates th' fuck out of. Here's Fish's capsule description of the Grand Unified Solution So Powerful No Level of Repudiation Can Stop It, Apparently:
In a neoliberal world, for example, tort questions — questions of negligence law — are thought of not as ethical questions of blame and restitution (who did the injury and how can the injured party be made whole?), but as economic questions about the value to someone of an injury-producing action relative to the cost to someone else adversely affected by that same action. It may be the case that run-off from my factory kills the fish in your stream; but rather than asking the government to stop my polluting activity (which would involve the loss of jobs and the diminishing of the number of market transactions), why don’t you and I sit down and figure out if more wealth is created by my factory’s operations than is lost as a consequence of their effects?...

Notice that “value” in this example (which is an extremely simplified stand-in for infinitely more complex transactions) is an economic, not an ethical word, or, rather, that in the neoliberal universe, ethics reduces to calculations of wealth and productivity. Notice too that if you and I proceed (as market ethics dictate) to work things out between us — to come to a private agreement — there will be no need for action by either the government or the courts, each of which is likely to muddy the waters (in which the fish will still be dying) by introducing distracting moral or philosophical concerns, sometimes referred to as “market distortions.”

Notice, too--and this is also an extremely simplified stand-in--that if you'd simply behaved as though your property rights ended where mine began you wouldn't have killed my fish in the first place, and we wouldn't be having this conversation.

Fish, though, is willing to give the other side a hearing:
The objection (which I am reporting, not making) is that in the passage from a state in which actions are guided by an overarching notion of the public good to a state in which individual entrepreneurs “freely” pursue their private goods, values like morality, justice, fairness, empathy, nobility and love are either abandoned or redefined in market terms.

Short-term transactions-for-profit replace long-term planning designed to produce a more just and equitable society. Everyone is always running around doing and acquiring things, but the things done and acquired provide only momentary and empty pleasures (shopping, trophy houses, designer clothing and jewelry), which in the end amount to nothing. Neoliberalism, David Harvey explains, delivers a “world of pseudo-satisfactions that is superficially exciting but hollow at its core.” (”A Brief History of Neoliberalism.”)

Well, yes. Of course "morality, justice, fairness and empathy" are redefined or abandoned, generally as part of the construction of the cosy sleeping bag of consent. And, of course, it begs the question: how did we get from a system based on morality and justice to one based on coercion without violating the terms of morality and justice to begin with? How does that simple guy with his simple pond of dead fish "deal" in fairness with the man whose position allows him to define not just the terms, but the definitions of "deal" and "fairness" into the bargain? At what point does the little guy get to redefine morality to make poisoning a two-way street? When he's gathered enough simple townsfolk with torches and pitchforks together?

And, above all, does this mean it's a good time to invest in farm implement and tar and pitch stocks?


Anonymous said...

Public hangings could become fashionable again and with some neo-liberalism thrown in lucrative by selling the broadcast rights.

Christopher said...

So, all that pretentious blather about neoliberalism in that Fish column is nothing more then a lead-up to his ACTUAL point, which is that higher learning should purposefully avoid having any kind of relevance to or opinion on the real world.

Well. You can't say he doesn't practice what he preaches.

LA Confidential Pantload said...

Actually, if you substitute "Palestinians" for "fish" in his writ, it makes a lot more sense.

Dave Kielpinski said...

I believe this is the same Stanley Fish that was editor of Social Text during the Sokal hoax.


That is all.

Kia said...

...his ACTUAL point, which is that higher learning should purposefully avoid having any kind of relevance to or opinion on the real world.

This been Stanley Fish's only point for the last 30-plus years. The point is to immunize himself or his latest academic fad from criticism. Now that academic literary study is moribund (with no small assistance from himself) he is offering his immunization services to our corporate overlords. I am sure they are more grateful.